Played by Matthew McConaughey at his most elegant, Mickey Pearson is an American who’s been in London long enough to dominate Britain’s marijuana trade, forging links with dirty money both old and new. The old is represented by an aristocratic Jewish multi-millionaire. And there’s a joke to be found here, too, for the role has gone to Jeremy Strong, wearing the same poker-faced expression and funny little hat that characterise his performance in the TV series Succession, which is all about the money and politics of the corporate class.
The film is a triumphant return to home base for Ritchie, who’s been busy adventuring in more wholesome genres since shaking up the crime movie 20 years ago with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and its follow-up, Snatch.
A particular joy lies in the quirkiness of his casting choices, which he casually dismisses as a case of happy coincidence. More likely, however, is the possibility that his actors leapt at the prospect of working with a script that gives everybody a chance to make a mark. All eccentricities are enthusiastically indulged yet staginess is not.
Symptomatic is a pivotal performance by Hugh Grant as Fletcher, a sleazy tabloid reporter who serves as a one-man Greek chorus, slyly unfurling the many twists in the plot during an extended interview with Mickey’s consigliere, Raymond (a phlegmatic Charlie Hunnam). Fletcher is trying to sell Mickey the information that he’s ferreted out from various sources in exchange for an exorbitant amount of money. Otherwise, he’ll give the story to his editor, Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) for publication, exposing Mickey and his operation and thwarting his plan to sell up and retire in style.
Already he’s being circled by predators, who are hoping to do away with the formalities of a sale in favour of grabbing the business out from under him. The most menacing of these is the handsome Henry Golding, gleefully playing against type as the snarling boss of an Asian drug cartel. His best moments occur in a confrontation with Dockery, who doesn’t take kindly to being ambushed at work. She runs a car repair business staffed entirely by female mechanics and all men, including Mickey, are banned from the premises.
With his usual energy, Ritchie ranges from one end of Britain’s class structure to the other, taking us from stately homes to housing estates, racecourses, marijuana farms and a youth club. Here, Colin Farrell, in avuncular mode, is trying to rein in a gang of young delinquents whose inventive attitude to law-breaking will eventually prove extremely useful to Mickey.
It’s baroque plotting but there are plenty of rewards to be had in trying to keep up with it – and Grant proves to be a tirelessly entertaining guide. Like the rest of the cast, he’s clearly relishing Ritchie’s dialogue, which marries the vernacular of the underworld with a flow of fanciful elaborations on the humour to be found in the English language’s digressions and circumlocutions.
While Ritchie’s gangsters are as impatient as ever, preferring to settle an argument with a gun rather than a conversation, he steers clear of sadism. It’s his wit which energises the film and shapes the characters – with a lot of help from his actors. A couple of them have talked happily of his habit of encouraging them to improvise, along with his nimbleness in being able to re-write a scene in the space of a day. That’s the kind of zest which permeates the whole film.